From gong to garage

The Motor City Brewing Works & Wine is the kind of bar you can grow fond of very quickly. It sits nestled in the heart of Cass Corridor behind a stone facade front. Inside, the walls are festooned with beautiful mosaics and the bar is set up in a roundtable fashion so everyone sitting at the bar can see one another. In a lot a ways, it feels like someone’s home.

Both a bar and a brewery, this quaint little meeting place is home to a wide variety of bar hoppers. Their beer — a local fave — is distributed to more than 250 Michigan locations and can be found everywhere from party stores to fine dining restaurants. The MCBW&W even has its own record label — Ghettoblaster Records — which has released two albums featuring a hodgepodge of some of D-town’s most beloved garage bands, such as the Sights, the Hentchmen and the Volebeats. But the true gauge of a bar’s success is its commitment to entertaining its patrons.

Take Sunday School of Rock — MCBW&W’s weekly open-mic night, for starters.

Now, let’s be honest, the term “open-mic night,” is the only combination of words that can make a bartender cringe more than “blender drinks.” And the forum — a breeding ground for the amateur musician — is rarely a bed of aural roses for a room full of bar patrons either. A lot is demanded of the listener at an event like this, as elevator-like etiquette inevitably takes over: Regular bar conversation seems rude or inappropriate; people wait until the song is over to order a beer, to leave, or flush the toilet. Cell phones are muted and taken outside. Even the ringing of the cash register — of all things — becomes a nuisance.

But for Billy West, local musician and host of MCBW&W’s Sunday School of Rock, the would-be misery of the amateur night has become somewhat of a mission.

Other than being acoustic-oriented, Sunday School (as it is referred to by regulars) has no real format. Only a few weeks old, this urban open jam has already spawned a few surprises. From Journey covers performed on the ukulele to an impromptu barstool performance from Detroit cult legend-cum-protest singer Sixto Rodgriguez to local chanteuse Audra Kubat testing a small batch of new wares — Sunday School’s buzzworthiness precedes it.

“Billy’s a key part of the night,” says John Linardos, owner/brew master of MCBW&W of his emcee. “He’s working off his $18,000 bar tab,” the bar owner jokes.

One of the most important elements to keeping Sunday School an alternative to the throngs of events of this ilk is West’s unusual choice in props. He has converted an 18-inch cymbal into a 4-foot-tall divine-looking gong. West explains, “Everyone will get a chance to play at least one complete song … no matter what it sounds like.” And nobody, as far as West is concerned, is above reproach. In fact, showboats are likely to “get the gong if they go for too long.”

Free and open to public, this ongoing event happens every Sunday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

But if music isn’t your bag, MCBW&W’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting might be more to your liking. Organized by local artist (and MCBW&W bartender) Graem Whyte, this evening’s motto is “Worship at the House of Beer.” The decidedly secular event is a combination garage sale, antique show and night on the town. The outdoor courtyard gets transformed into a makeshift flea market, offering an array of collectibles, records, kitsch, and vintage clothing. Patrons are encouraged to come and set up shop, or to simply shop, swap and drink. The Wednesday night soiree runs through Sept. 29, and will start up again on Oct. 13, with something called “This Week in Art,” an indoor event that spotlights the works of a roundtable of local artists.

If you could care less about local arts and culture, then just hang out.

In addition to brewing the beer that has made them famous, MCBW&W is now making and bottling wine. Their latest creation, Cyser, a mix of mead (made from honey) and hard cider, is fast becoming a favorite.

However you slice it, this little piece of Detroit culture is worth checking it — it’s got everything the happy dilettante needs. Well, everything, that is, but food. But, if you ask West, he’ll tell you, “Beer has the same ingredients as bread.”

The Motor City Brewing Works & Wine is located at 470 W. Canfield (at the northeast corner of the Traffic Jam’s parking lot) in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. Call 313-832-2700 or visit for more information.

Zac Massad is a freelance writer for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]